Two weeks ago, IAM published a post about a new attempt to boycott Israel in the American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting. A group within the private APSA section, the Foundation of Political Theory, aka section 17, requested a discussion on BDS and brought a BDS resolution.
A few days ago, Prof. Robyn Marasco, the chair of the APSA Foundation section, wrote a letter to members of the Foundation to clarify her position. She explained that a BDS proposal was brought to her by some members of the Foundation and they requested a discussion on this topic. She decided to have an open meeting. She explained that there will be no vote on the BDS resolution at APSA this year because based on the Foundations by-laws, votes on new policy can only take place at the business meeting. The business meeting is scheduled to lunchtime while the open meeting is later, in the evening.
She explained about herself that throughout the years she has taken "no position on BDS or this particular resolution, neither in my capacity as chair of Foundations nor in my own scholarship. Never have I made any public statements about BDS."
She added that the organization has not been “captured” by activists.
But, Marasco may be unaware of the group Political Scientists for Justice in Palestine (PSJP), which "works to further BDS at APSA and the discipline overall." Marasco should note that some members of her Foundation, those who brought the BDS proposal, are members of PSJP. PSJP has a Twitter account and a Facebook group since 2014. The admins of the closed Facebook group of 118 members are all members of APSA, Isaac Kamola; Shirin Deylami, a council member in the Foundation; Ayten Gundogdu; Susan Kang; Eli Meyerhoff; and Meghana Nayak.
Such a BDS activity at APSA is actually not a new one. In 2015, a group of Palestinian-engaged political scientists has hosted a workshop, "Politics at APSA: New Political Science, Anti-Apartheid Movements, and Israel/Palestine," during the APSA annual meeting. As indicated in the workshop brochure, the workshop was to question "Where is the line between the study of politics and an engagement with politics? What relationship should Political Scientists have with difficult political issues?" These questions were purposely pushing APSA to become "a viable space for political organizing", not wanting APSA's social func'tion to "remain limited to professional development" alone. They wanted to focus on the "current debate about the conflict in Israel/Palestine and the growing number of academic associations taking explicitly political positions on the matter," and in particular, the boycott of Israel. The group was not happy that "APSA is prohibited from taking positions on political matters." Since the Caucus for a New Political Science published a condemnation of apartheid South Africa, they were hoping this workshop will "debate these political and professional questions concerning position-taking at APSA." In order to compare Israel to South Africa, they first had to establish the "relationship between APSA and the NPS to develop a shared understanding of what kinds of spaces exist within APSA for taking political positions." But they emphasized, "that this is not a workshop on the Israel/Palestine conflict." Leila Farsakh was scheduled to present BDS in "a comparative study of scholarly responses to the situations of South Africa and Israel". Farsakh has endorsed BDS in two petitions in 2014 and participated in a teach-in on "BDS and Anthropology" at Harvard University by "anthropologists and activists" who discussed "BDS strategy for justice," in 2016. The workshop brochure then proposed Sunaina Maira to orchestrate "an open discussion about solidarity organizing within universities and professional associations, specifically with regard to Israel/Palestine and academic boycott." Maira is a founding organizer of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). Marasco should pay attention to how these activists work to "capture" APSA.
In response to our previous posting, some readers asked why IAM called the BDS resolution anti-Semitic.
The answer is twofold: First, the resolution negates Israel's right to be a Jewish (and democratic) state. It states, "The conflation of Israel with either Judaism or Jewish people is both empirically inaccurate and ideologically objectionable to many Jewish people around the world." It doesn't matter if there are Jews who object to Israel, still, Israel is the state of the Jewish People. Negating this right is anti-Semitic. Second, it singles out Israel. It states, "It is true that the academic boycott resolution does specify and pertain solely to Israel." While they claim they might work to boycott other countries in the future. This is mischievous, if they don't want to be considered as anti-Semites, they should start with boycotting the most-worthy country to boycott first, and along with the list of countries to boycott, get down to boycott Israel. But targeting only Israel is anti-Semitic.
Those who attend the open meeting should address these issues.
A letter from Robyn Marasco, chair of the APSA Foundation of Political Theory:
I wanted to send a follow-up about the “Open Meeting” I have called at APSA for Foundations members (and non-members part of the political theory community). Just to clarify a few things, as there has been a lot of misinformation spreading through our informal networks:
First, there will be no vote on this resolution at APSA. Votes on new policy can only take place at the Business meeting, according to Foundations by-laws. We will not be discussing or taking up the BDS issue at our Business Meeting, which will take place during the lunch hour. I purposely scheduled this “Open Meeting” for Saturday evening, after the Business Meeting, so that no vote can or will take place. I sincerely apologize for any inference that a vote would be held at this year’s APSA.
Second, this proposal was brought to me by a group of our members and they requested a discussion. I scheduled a meeting for a preliminary discussion, with the hope and expectation that political theorists can discuss controversial issues that impact our professional (and not just our political) lives. I do not believe Foundations should be a partisan organization nor do I believe that I am promoting an agenda or that the organization has been “captured” by activists. I do have a vision for Foundations as something more than a reception-planning and award-dispensing organization and a vision of political theory as a field enlivened by our many disagreements. I hope (and still believe) this process will be productive for the field and clarifying for the organization, regardless of the outcome of this particular proposal.
Third, I have taken no position on BDS or this particular resolution, neither in my capacity as chair of Foundations nor in my own scholarship. Never have I made any public statements about BDS. I have my own questions about this resolution, which matter only insofar as I am one member among many. But in my capacity as chair, I aim to be responsive to our diverse membership and maintain the integrity of Foundations as an organization of academics.
I invite private correspondences from those who cannot attend the meeting. I have fielded over a hundred emails, from scholars in the United States, Canada and Israel, on all sides of this issue. I welcome the feedback from our members and all interested parties, but also encourage you to attend the meeting on Saturday evening.
Please email me (email@example.com) if you have any questions or concerns. I look forward to seeing you in DC!
Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
Short Course: Politics at APSA
Politics at APSA: New Political Science, Anti-Apartheid Movements, and Israel/Palestine
Wednesday, September 2, 1:30-5:30 p.m.
Hilton Union Square 24
Where is the line between the study of politics and an engagement with politics? What relationship should Political Scientists have with difficult political issues? Is a professional organization—such as the American Political Science Association—a viable space for political organizing, or should its social func'tion remain limited to professional development? These questions are particularly pressing given the current debate about the conflict in Israel/Palestine and the growing number of academic associations taking explicitly political positions on the matter. In response to the 2004 call from Palestinian civil society for academic boycott of Israel, a number of academic associations across the U.S. have engaged in prominent discussion of the issue, with some organizations—most prominently, the American Studies Association—voting to uphold the boycott. Meanwhile, the US Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (USACBI) has called for the formation of campus chapters of FJP – Faculty for Justice in Palestine – who support and work toward their universities’ implementation of academic boycott of Israel. Political Scientists, however, find themselves in a curious situation. On the one hand, APSA is prohibited from taking positions on political matters. On the other hand, in the past, the Caucus for a New Political Science (NPS) has taken explicitly political stances, most notably its high profile condemnation of apartheid in South Africa.
This workshop is designed to discuss and debate these political and professional questions concerning position-taking at APSA. The workshop will have two foci: first, we will explore the relationship between APSA and NPS to develop a shared understanding of what kinds of spaces exist within APSA for taking political positions. This will include presentations from scholars active within APSA and NPS who can speak to the discussions within NPS concerning South African disinvestment campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s. Second, we will engage the broader question of whether academic boycotts are viable political strategies and if APSA/NPS are suitable venues for such interventions. It should be noted that this is not a workshop on the Israel/Palestine conflict, but rather a reflection on our roles and obligations as academics in relationship to this and other political conflicts.
Our short course will consist of three panels: (1) a historical overview of the formation of New Political Science (NPS) within APSA as both a response to APSA’s refusal of political position-taking and a commitment to forwarding progressive work in Political Science, including a discussion of the relationship of NPS to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and other global solidarity movements (John Ehrenberg and Victor Wallis, invited); (2) a comparative study of scholarly responses to the situations of South Africa and Israel/Palestine, including a discussion of the global movements for boycott and sanctions against South Africa and Israel (Leila Farsakh, accepted); (3) an open discussion about solidarity organizing within universities and professional associations, specifically with regard to Israel/Palestine and academic boycott (Sunaina Maira, accepted).